Are you looking to understand the difference between Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle dog breeds? In this post, we examine both breeds and outline the similarities and differences so that you can better understand why the two look the same but are, in fact, separate breeds entirely.
Many new dog owners believe that they are of the same breed. They certainly have similar names and are similar-looking dogs, which doesn’t help when trying to find the right dog to add to your family. We will answer your questions here, so read on and learn everything you need to know about both breeds.
Australian Shepherd vs. Australian Cattle Dog
Though the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are herding dogs, some important differences can help you identify each breed. They’re often mistaken for each other, but these two breeds are very distinctive (even if they look similar).
When considering buying or adopting these lovely family pets, it’s good to know the traits of each breed. Australian working dogs are high-energy dogs, and these two are no exception to that rule. So if you’re looking to bring a herding dog into your home, learn as much as possible about the two dog breeds before you choose one, and also consider other dogs that might meet your family or working dog needs.
Getting to know the Australian Shepherd
- Height: 20 to 23 inches (male), 18 to 21 inches (female)
- Weight: 50 to 65 pounds (male), 40 to 55 pounds (female)
- Coat colors: Black, Red, Red Merle, Blue Merle, Black, and Tan
- Coat patterns: Red Bicolor or Tricolor, White or Tan markings
- Personality: Affectionate, intelligent, protective
- Other names: Spanish Shepherd, Pastor dogs
Australian Shepherds are high-energy dogs who are happiest when exercising or being employed as working dogs. They’re extremely lively and very clever, which are excellent traits for a dog used to working hard on farms.
This medium-sized breed needs at least 2 hours of exercise every day. This will help keep your dog active, but they need to be properly trained to function well as working dogs and a good member of society. Despite being medium-sized dogs, they are still very strong, which can be intimidating to new dog owners and public members.
The Australian Shepherd’s coat will require consistent grooming. Giving their fur a brush three times a week should be enough to keep it looking healthy and shiny, but you should remember to focus extra attention on their back legs and tail to keep their coat in the best condition possible.
As a herding breed, Australian Shepherds will commit to trying to herd small animals or even household members. If they are the only dog in your home, you can expect them to try and herd and protect any young children you have. This, to a human, looks like the dog is gently bumping into them or trying to nudge them in a direction.
Getting to know the Australian Cattle dog
- Height: 18 to 20 inches (male), 17 to 19 inches (female)
- Weight: 30 to 50 pounds (male and female, females are usually smaller)
- Coat colors: Blue (in the case of the more popular Blue Heeler) or Red (for Red Heelers)
- Coat patterns: Mottled or Speckled, with or without Black, Blue, or Tan markings on the head
- Personality: Protective, reserved, willful
- Other names: Queensland Heeler, Blue Heeler
The Australian Cattle dog has a fascinating history. In the 19th century, Dingo-blue Merle Collies, Dalmations, and Black and Tan Kelpies were all crossed to create the first generation of Blue Heelers, also known as Australian Cattle dogs. The first dogs looked extremely similar to Dingos and turned out to be excellent working dogs.
Australian Cattle dogs have often been used to help herd large numbers of cattle. Their fantastic herding instincts are perfect for working on farms, even though they are purchased as house pets. The first breed standard of the Cattle dog was established in 1903 when they were officially given the name “Australian Cattle dog”.
After the Second World War, American soldiers took Cattle dogs back to the U.S. after seeing their loyalty and territorial nature. Even after all this time, Blue Heelers are still very popular dog breeds at home or on the farm. As of last year, the American Kennel Club has them ranked at number 51 on their popularity listings.
The similarities: Australian Shepherd vs. Cattle dog
Despite the confusion between these two breeds, there isn’t much that makes them similar. Most of the mix-ups come from similar names, particularly when it comes to the name “Blue Heeler”, which is sometimes listed as an alternative name for the Australian Shepherd when it belongs to the Australian Cattle dog.
Their coloring and patterns are similar, and they need plenty of exercise. Both breeds would benefit from early socialization and training from a young age to help them cope with their herding instincts. If you aren’t training your pup as a working dog, you could consider putting them through agility training and entering them in dog shows and other competitions.
Similarities between these two highly active breeds include:
- Both have the potential to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as a few other common working dog health conditions
- They will get along with other pets, though they may try to herd them like cattle
- Socialization at an early age will help them get used to other animals and people
- Both breeds make good guard dogs, though the Australian Shepherd has better guard dog habits than the Australian Cattle dog
- Weekly brushing is needed for both breeds
- They’re suitable for family life, as well as farm life
- You’re unlikely to find any 1st generation of purebred dogs for either breed because both were bred into existence two centuries ago using a wide mixture of other dogs
The main differences between both breeds
You will quickly see how different they are when you look at the Blue Heeler and the Australian Shepherd side by side.
Australian Shepherd dogs are fluffier and have floppy ears. They’re the kind of family pet you would adopt if you had young children because they’re protective but not pushy. In addition, they have a Collie-like appearance, which is very sought-after. Oddly, despite being so fluffy, they have a naturally docked tail, similar to a Corgi.
On the other hand, the Australian Cattle dog’s appearance couldn’t be more different. They’re shorter and weigh less, with erect ears and a short coat. In addition, the breed is the more willful of the two breeds, prone to being more independent and even a bit bossy. Of the two, the Blue Heeler would benefit the most from being properly socialized as young as possible.
While we’re on the subject of similarities and differences, one subject that any dog owner should read up on is the potential health conditions of the breeds they’re interested in. We’ve already mentioned the potential for elbow and hip dysplasia in both breeds, but, unfortunately, other conditions can pop up in dogs that are working breeds.
Some of these conditions are hereditary – a result of the breeding that created these two new breeds or genetic conditions from the parent breeds they get their traits. Others can appear as they get older or may occur when a dog is overworked or hurts themself.
Australian Shepherd health conditions
- Autoimmune diseases
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Eye disease
- Heart disease
- Hip Dysplasia
Australian Cattle dog health conditions
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Hip Dysplasia
- Osteochondritis Dissecans
- Primary Lens Luxation
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
You will have noticed that the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog have extremely similar common health conditions. Some can be tested for early on by asking your vet, while others may not become apparent straight away. So if you’re considering buying or adopting either of these breeds, the best thing you can do is read up on the common conditions and the symptoms to watch out for.
Australian Shepherd: Similar Breeds
If you’re looking for dogs similar to Australian Shepherd dogs, look no further than these pups listed here:
- Border Collie, similar appearance and just as friendly
- Poodle, a friendly pup without the herding tendencies
- Shetland Sheepdog, an even fluffier herding dog that is a great guard dog
- Finnish Lapphund, a long-haired herding dog that is used to colder climates
You could also consider any of the several crossbreeds that are part Australian Shepherd, such as the Sheprador (a dog that is part Australian Shepherd, the part Labrador Retriever).
Australian Cattle Dog: Similar Breeds
- Belgian Tervuren, an elegant dog that is highly intelligent
- German Shepherd, another shepherd dog with similar characteristics to the Australian Cattle dog
- Texas Heeler, a short-haired dog that is a cross-breed made from an Australian Cattle dog and an Australian Shepherd dog
Though we’ve listed one alternative dog that is a cross-breed of the Australian Cattle dog, there are plenty of other crosses available to buy from breeders or possibly adopt. A popular one is the Bernese Cattle dog, a relatively new hybrid dog that is significantly larger than the Blue Heeler.
Which Dog is Right for You?
Figuring out which of these two dog breeds is suitable for you depends on your situation and what you plan to train your dog once you bring them home. A solid family home setting is a better place for an Australian Shepherd dog because they are more easy-going than Blue Heelers and their herding instincts aren’t as prone to appearing out of the blue (if you’ll pardon the pun). That said, the Cattle dog is a better guard dog because of their instincts and will react faster to loud noises that they see as a threat.
The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog need mental stimulation and plenty of exercise. So they aren’t suitable for inactive homes with just one or two people. It will take an entire household to keep up with these breeds, particularly during shedding season when you’ll find it difficult to clean up after their fur (the long-haired Australian Shepherd more so than the Heeler).
If you’re planning on employing either dog as a working dog for your farm or whatever type of large plot of land you have, you must read through the points that explain the differences in the Cattle dog vs. Australian Shepherd argument. Some differences are very subtle, and it does come down to the look and personality of each breed over anything else.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Is the Australian Shepherd a good dog for beginners?
A: Of the two herding dogs we’ve examined in this guide, the Australian Shepherd has slightly better potential for beginner dog owners, but they still may be a little more to handle for someone who hasn’t had any experience with a working dog breed. Thankfully, Australian Shepherds are very affectionate dogs and are easy to train and learn about. The Blue Heeler may be smaller but have a more difficult personality.
Q: Why should I adopt a herding dog?
A: Though they will require at least an hour (preferably two) of exercise a day, herding breeds like the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle dog can make wonderful additions to any family. Because of the similarities, it’s hard to choose one breed of Australian herding dog over the other, but having one means that your home will always be active, and there’ll be a pup to keep you and your family busy. Families with land will also appreciate having one of these dogs to look out for their livestock and plants.
Q: Will my Australian Shepherd or Cattle dog need obedience training?
A: Proper training can help any dog, particularly those with herding and guarding instincts. Unfortunately, without training, you may find yourself with a dog that is too alert and is set off by everything from birds to a visitor ringing your doorbell. By hiring a professional dog trainer and taking your dog to obedience classes, you may even open up the opportunity to take your pup to dog shows and bond with them very deeply.